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Photo by Barry Broman, from
his book Cambodia:
its Land and its People.
Why this book? Why now—almost forty years since the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia?
When I mention the words Khmer Rouge or the name Pol Pot, the most frequent reaction I receive is a blank stare of non-recognition. When the Khmer Rouge were plotting their revolution and eventually overthrew the government of Prime Minister Lon Nol, America was focused on extricating itself from its failed military involvement in neighboring Vietnam and reeling from the Watergate scandal and impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Because Cambodia was not the victim of a major natural disaster to which the rest of the world responded with great outpourings of sympathy or support, the sufferings of its people are largely ignored today. Yet, millions died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and tens of thousands remain traumatized by the horrors they experienced. I wrote this book because there are too many parallels and lessons learned from that period of history that apply to what is happening in many parts of the world today.
In the course of my twenty-seven year career with the Central Intelligence Agency, I served in Phnom Penh from 1972 to 1975. Despite the ongoing war between government forces and the Khmer Rouge, I was able to travel to government-controlled provinces throughout the country where I observed the beauty and diversity of Cambodia’s natural resources, as well as the harmful effects of that war on the Khmer people.
After Pol Pot began his reign of terror in 1975, I had the unexpected opportunity to meet Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was also a Khmer Rouge cabinet minister. Thirith was the sister of Khieu Ponnary, the wife of Pol Pot. Like Sary and Thirith, I studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and was able to communicate with them on the basis of a common language and experience.
Historians have produced volumes about the Pol Pot era, but these are largely inaccessible to the lay reader. Many survivors of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror have written heart-wrenching accounts of their suffering. Unfortunately, these overwhelming litanies of pain are often devoid of any wider historical context. My goal in writing this book was to present this tragic story in a way that enables the lay reader to understand not only the torment inflicted on the Cambodian people by the demonic Pol Pot, but also the overarching political and cultural influences that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
I believe the best vehicle for presenting this information to lay readers is through the eyes of plausible fictional narrators who can place events in the context of Cambodia’s history and culture, while at the same time communicating the drama and pathos of what they saw and experienced.
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